The Special Collections and Archives department holds a variety of unique and distinctive collections, including archives, manuscripts and other primary sources, as well as rare books, early printed editions and supporting published materials.
Follow the links on this page to search or browse the collections, read more about the teaching and research services offered, or find out how to make an appointment to visit the reading room.
Archives are original, unpublished sources that are not available elsewhere. Collections can encompass a wide range of materials, from hand-written letters to literary drafts, music scores, architectural drawings, prints, maps or sound recordings.
The first archival collection acquired by the department was the papers of the Knights of Glin in 2002. Since then, its holdings have increased significantly, and the catalogues to over 30 archival collections currently available online.
Prints, drawings and maps
We hold a variety of antiquarian prints, drawings, engravings, and maps, the majority of which date from the late eighteenth and early twentieth centuries. These encompass Irish landscapes and objects of archaeological and architectural interest.
Ephemera is material that was created for a specific purpose but was not meant to last. Examples from the collections at UL include advertisements, postcards, pamphlets, ticket stubs, posters, event programmes, as well as historic tour guides.
The department holds a variety of original source material of private origin, including estate collections, the papers of noted literary and political figures, and collections of local interest.
It also houses the National Dance Archive of Ireland (NDAI), which is the first archive of its kind in Ireland, created in partnership with Dance Research Forum Ireland, the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance (IWAMD) and the Arts Council. Genres represented include traditional dance, social dance, contemporary dance, ballet, urban dance and world dance.
Rare book collections
Rare books are the cherished objects of early printing. ‘Rareness’ can be distinguished by a multitude of features, for example, early print dates, scarcity of copies, special characteristics of an edition or binding, or historical interest.
The core of the department’s rare book holdings was established with the acquisition of four major libraries — the Norton Collection in 1997, the Leonard Collection in 2003, the McAnally Collection in 2008, and later, the Bolton Library in 2016. The department also houses a number of smaller named collections which focus on specific subjects, including the Patrick Lysaght Kerry Collection and the Gilsenan Yeats Collection containing printed works of William Butler Yeats.
The department collects rare, antiquarian and contemporary books of enduring value. Major subject emphases include Irish history, culture, travel, politics and social science, with particular strengths in Limerick history and literature.
Of particular interest is the Bolton Library collection, a collection of 12,000 early printed books, manuscripts and incunabulae of exceptional academic and bibliographic importance.